Armored Core 6 Could Give Newer FromSoftware Fans Whiplash Preview 1

After gaining absurd popularity in the hardcore space with its Dark Souls series and then capitalising on that with Elden Ring sales up the wazoo, FromSoftware had the Monty Python's Flying Circus thought process: "And now for something completely different." With five mainline instalments under its belt, the Armored Core franchise is quite familiar territory for the Japanese developer. However, for anyone who hadn't heard of the team before PS3's Demon's Souls, they might be wondering why swords are being swapped for Transformers. Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon will probably please longtime FromSoftware backers, and there's a good chance newcomers will enjoy it too.

Should you fall into the latter category, though, it is absolutely essential your expectations are set correctly: this is not FromSoftware applying its Dark Souls formula to the Armored Core series — far from it. Fires of Rubicon is an Armored Core game through and through, and that means some of the more mindblowing aspects and features of a Bloodborne aren't a focus. Since Fires of Rubicon excels in other areas, that's alright. However, you may experience a bit of whiplash if you spot the FromSoftware logo on the box and assume it's Dark Souls with mechs.

We were given the chance to play the PS5, PS4 game's opening chapter at a recent Bandai Namco preview event, which totalled roughly three hours of play. Fires of Rubicon remains true to the mission-based structure of past iterations, but in an industry where bigger is generally meant to mean better, FromSoftware has done the opposite. The comparison we think comes closest is Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Instead of structuring the experience around lengthy missions with multiple objectives, much of the game feels like a long series of side quests.

If you remember the Side Ops from Venom Snake's excursions across Afghanistan, then Fires of Rubicon appears to operate similarly. There are sequences billed as main missions with cutscenes and boss fights, but in between them are levels with single tasks that are over in a few minutes. You'll need to complete many of these before reaching the next story beat — they're not optional. The title has you select a level from the menu, you finish it within five minutes, and then you're back at base with more money to spend on your mech. This is the loop we spent the vast majority of our hands on time doing, and they're all very basic tasks: destroy the military installations, clean up the area of enemies.

While we knew previous instalments were structured around missions rather than an open world, their briefness and simplicity caught us off guard. This is what Armored Core novices must accept if they're to invest $59.99 next month: you won't be guiding a mech around a sci-fi take on Anor Londo or The Lands Between. You complete your objective and then you get the hell out — there's no time for sightseeing.

Of course, the main question then becomes: is that any good? Yes, it is. While the thrills are short-lived, there are at least a lot of them. Your mech looks to be endlessly customisable with new weapons, armour, and equipment under the hood, but what remains the same and responsive are the controls. You can have up to four weapons equipped and firing off at the same time, all mapped to the shoulder buttons. Alongside them, your mech is incredibly agile with dashes and dodges to utilise on the ground and a jet pack to take you up in the air. All these moves are tied to the Boost Meter, and it dictates how long you can spend airborne. Returning to the ground refills it pretty much instantly, so combat becomes about firing off bullets and missiles on the tarmac and then reaching for the skies when the enemy throws a bit back.

There are really short cooldowns attached to each gun — just like the Boost Meter — so you'll need to manage what's firing off at any one time to ensure it's ready for the next enemy. With a big reticule ever-present on-screen, the game automatically locks your bullets and missiles onto opposing mechs, allowing you to focus on air control. At least at the start of Fires of Rubicon, you'll need a full missile barrage to take down a single enemy, so you must accept retreat into your combat approach to let weapons recharge and be ready for the next. You can use the environment for some cover, with the opening chapter transitioning between industrial wastelands, factories, and the desert.

What of the difficulty, though? While FromSoftware stresses it hasn't carried the Dark Souls formula over into Fires of Rubicon, it's still not exactly a walk in the park. There aren't any difficulty options, and the game feels maybe a tad tougher than the average action-adventure experience. Most enemy units will go down easily, but more powerful mechs litter the battlefield, and so too do boss battles. At least during the first chapter, it's fairly obvious when a boss encounter is about to take place — you don't suddenly stumble into them in the world — and they test your combat and flight abilities in a number of ways.

Armored Core 6 Could Give Newer FromSoftware Fans Whiplash Preview 8

You won't be finding mechanical Bonfires or Sites of Grace during missions either. Fires of Rubicon resets you at the last checkpoint if you die, and there's no way to edit your build during a mission; you'd need to back out to the Garage to do any of that. And if you haven't activated a checkpoint before destruction, you start the mission over again. Since the levels are so short, though, this isn't much of a hindrance.

One feature that seriously impressed us was the amount of mech customisation you can do, both from a cosmetic point and upgrading your arsenal. Completing missions earns you cash to splurge on your Armored Core, enhancing its firepower and mobility. However, you need to keep an eye on your weight limit and energy meter. Go over them and it'll feel like you're over-encumbered in Dark Souls.

Away from simply upgrading the mech, you can go seriously in-depth with its look. There are lots of different colours sets to choose from, weathering options, decals, and even the opportunity to create your own symbols and place them on body armour. Once you've found a look you like, you can save it as a sort of cosmetic loadout and then easily switch between variants in the Garage. It's a really neat inclusion that'll allow you to make your Armored Core your own.

Deep customisation rounded out an experience that concluded a sort of expectation reset for us with Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon. In the moment gameplay is thoroughly enjoyable, with weapons blasting off on all sides and a sense of aerial freedom not seen in a FromSoftware title for a decade. As a whole, the sixth instalment on PS5, PS4 is shaping up nicely — we're only anticipating it more and more as the late August release date creeps closer. Between now and then, though, it's utterly essential newer FromSoftware fans come to terms with what Fires of Rubicon really is. As long as you can accept short but sweet missions over a vast open world, then Armored Core VI represents a welcome chance for FromSoftware to once again diversify its hardcore output.

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Are you open to the short-form missions of Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon, or would you prefer this be another open world deal? Share your thoughts in the comments below.